Volunteer to Research Bottlenose Dolphins in the Adriatic Sea, Croatia

Dolphin research volunteers can take part in a bottlenose dolphin research project from the base in Losinj from May to September every year.

Individuals, groups and students doing research all welcome. ** Discount for all bookings received before 28 February 2019 **

Cost includes lodging in volunteer house, 3 meals a day, lectures & training by researchers, internet access, boat fuel costs;  from £860

Jumping right out of the waterMale bottlenose dolphins fighting and playingWhen the sea is calm, it provides ideal conditions for researchEarly morning dolphin sightingsTwo mothers and two calvesBreaking the surface of the waterView from the research boatOur volunteers out at seaJumping dolphinUnderwater shotBottlenose dolphinA clear picture of a dorsal fin helps the researchers to identify each individualJumping out of the waterView of Veli Losinj from the research boatVolunteers swimming in the turquoise watersBBQ time!Dinner with all the volunteersVolunteers out on the boatA typical Croatian sceneVeli Losinj sea frontView of Veli LosinjViews of stunning seascapes in CroatiaOne of the places where volunteers can swim in Mali Losinj after a hard day's workOne of the researchers doing photo IDsSunsetVolunteers at Marine Education CenterMarine conservation volunteers out for a hikeView of beautiful CroatiaA researcher identifying dolphin whistles and clicksInside the Marine Education Center

Bottlenose Dolphin jumping right out of the water in Croatia

About the Project

This project is the longest ongoing study of a resident population of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Mediterranean Sea.

Bottlenose Dolphin Research Volunteering from the base in Losinj

The research focuses on dolphin population dynamics, photo – identification, behavioural sampling, acoustic monitoring, and the collection of stranding data for genetic, forage ecology and toxicological analysis. Data is used to produce a regular report on the status and ecology of the population and to offer solutions for their effective conservation. From the research station at Veli Lošinj we monitor the daily behaviour of the bottlenose dolphins of the region. It is now possible to identify around 450 individual dolphins with the help of photo-identification.

Marine volunteers on the volunteer boat

The Day of a Dolphin Research Volunteer
There is no typical day……… Much of what we do is based on sea conditions. If the sea is calm and the weather is fine, you board the boat to search for dolphins. The moment the dolphins are sighted, everyone on board has a specific task to fulfil. A researcher will take photos for the photo-identification. Your task as project participant is to record data; the time, the number and breakdown of animals, their behavioural activity and their names as the researcher calls them out. In some cases you may be asked to be involved in acoustic sampling. This involves stopping the boat regularly to place the hydrophone in the water.

Dolphins swimming by the boatIf the sea is not calm, the team remains at the base (LMEC) analysing data and preparing papers and reports, as well as doing everyday duties. A daily lecture is offered on aspects of cetacean biology or the marine environment. In free time volunteers may visit the island, enjoy the beauty of discovering new paths and beaches for swimming and snorkelling in the crystal clean sea.

Dolphin Research Volunteers are also expected to assist in educational activities of the Lošinj marine educational centre (LMEC). Duties will include helping out the staff and students, taking visitors around the centre and explaining exhibits. Sunday is designated as a free day for both volunteers and researchers. On this day other activities such as diving can be organised.

Golden light on bottlenose dolphin from sunriseThe Boat
The small (6 m), low noise craft, allows the easy approach of the wild dolphins and follow them for a long time without the animals being disturbed by our presence. The craft is equipped with all safety and scientific gear.

Island of Lošinj
The coastline of Lošinj is extremely diverse; it consists of many large and small bays and underwater caves. The field-base is located in the old village of Veli Lošinj (3 km distant from Mali Lošinj) on the sheltered east coast of the island. There are more than 95 species of fish found in these waters, and other top predators such as loggerhead turtles, tuna, sharks and swordfish regularly visit this area. The marine environment around Lošinj is the cleanest part of the Northern Adriatic Sea, with underwater visibility of consistently over twenty metres. We encourage our volunteers to explore the island and take advantage of the untouched natural environment that surrounds them.

Dates & Costs

Bottlenose dolphin close upProject dates run from May to September each year. There are 5 places available in each group.

27th May to 7th June 2019
10th to 21st June 2019
24th June to 5th July
8th to 19th July 2019
22nd July to 2nd August 2019
5th to 16th August 2019
19th to 30th August 2019
2nd to 13th September 2019

The total cost ranges from £860 to £1005 GB pounds (depending on date) for 12 days for the Research project based in Losinj. This includes a £180 GB pounds application payment in addition to a balance payment to be paid in Euros (£750 to £825 pounds equivalent depending on course date and duration).  Discounts on the balance payment are available for students, group bookings and Croatian nationals (£680 to £750 pounds equivalent). Please enquire to the Volunteer Coordinator: victoria.mcneil@workingabroad.com for further dates or questions. 

**Discount of 10% on the balance payment for all bookings received by end February 2019**

One of the researchers teaching us about Photo Identification

Included in the price:

  • In-house/on boat food and beverages (breakfast, lunch and dinner) for the duration of the project except for the last evening dinner (usually pizza or pasta) at the restaurant in town
  • Accommodation on land
  • House expenses
  • Boat fuel
  • Lectures by researchers
  • Scientific supervision during the research
  • Internet access at LMEC
  • Certificate of attendance on the project

Not included in the price:

  • Extra food and beverages consumed in restaurants and bars
  • Travel expenses
  • Alcoholic drinks
  • Personal expenses (e.g. telephone)
  • Tourist Tax (about €10) to be paid to the Tourist Agency in Veli Lošinj
  • Medical & accident insurance which all volunteers are required to have for the duration of the project

Lodging, Food & Travel

View from volunteer house in Mali Losinj

Bedroom in volunteer houseAccommodation in Losinj
You will be hosted in Mali Lošinj. The house provides a bedroom for interns, two for volunteers, two bathrooms, kitchen, lounge, and a terrace. A single room is not available. Beds, sheets and blankets are provided. There is a washing machine in the house and you can use it. Everybody at the project is expected to do his or her share in the household. The daily household duties include cooking, dishwashing and general housekeeping. All participants alternate in housekeeping and cooking shifts. There is no smoking within the accommodation.

Bottlenose dolphin breaking the surface

The project attracts people from all over the world, so it is possible that your colleagues are from different European countries or even further.

The house has Wi-Fi and a computer is available in office in Veli Lošinj. You can use it any time during the opening hours. In addition, some bars and restaurants in Mali and Veli Lošinj offer Wi-Fi access for their guests.

Volunteers relaxing in the eveningVolunteers are highly motivated individuals who come to join our research and provide great help throughout the season. During the course period volunteers are educated in cetacean biology, marine conservation and scientific research techniques by the resident researchers.  Volunteers should be:

  • In good physical condition, to be steady on the legs and able to swim;
  • Able to tolerate hot weather and long periods on the boat under the sun;
  • Speak English;
  • Over 18 years old; 
  • Be committed to nature conservation and animal protection;
  • Positive attitude towards working with people from different countries.

Free Time
There will also be lots of time for swimming, snorkelling, sunbathing or simply relaxing.  The research activities have priority and there may be days when the whole team will be working long hours. However, there will be plenty of free time too.  Everyday tasks (cooking, dish washing, boat maintenance, cleaning...) are divided among all team members. We suggest you bring some cooking recipes.

Mother and calf bottlenose dolphinsGetting there
For the volunteers joining the Losinj project, you need to get to Mali Losinj, and there are many ways to reach this island by bus, boat, train and plane.  Cheap airlines fly to several places in Croatia (Rijeka, Zadar, Zagreb, Pula and Split) - www.ryanair.com or www.croatiaairlines.hr.   From Rijeka, there are daily boat crossings to Mali Lošinj and buses from other destinations.  For volunteers joining the Dalmatian Research project, the meeting point is on Murter Island.  A pickup by the research time can be arranged from Vodice, which is 20 mins from Murter.  To get to Vodice, you can fly into Zadar or Split and then catch a bus from there to Vodice.  Please enquire with us for more information.

Interactive Map & Background

See below for videos showcasing the work of volunteers on the project:

Below is an interactive map showing the location of the project and study area:

About Croatia

Croatia is a Central European and Mediterranean country, with a long maritime border with Italy in the Adriatic Sea.  It has an amazing 5,835km of coastline, 4,057km of which belongs to islands, cliffs and reefs. There are 1,185 islands in the Adriatic, but only about 50 are populated.  The islands are home to glistening sea winds around rocky coves, lapping at pine-fringed beaches. Ports bustle with fishermen while children dive into the sparkling water.  The climate is Mediterranean along the Adriatic coast, meaning warm dry summers and mild winters, with 2,600 hours of sunlight on average yearly - it is one of the sunniest coastlines in Europe!

Volunteer Testimonials

Laura Butula, a student from Croatia, joined the project in June 2018: 
I really want to thank everyone for the incredible time in Lošinj, the entire trip makes for unique memories. On the first day in the office, I was immediately put to the task of creating a short film for our volunteer group. I think that being able to access the data base full of photos and videos of the dolphins really enables volunteers to become more excited about the project, as one is able to see the different dolphins in the area and everything suddenly becomes more realistic; therefore, I think the activities such as the ‘challenge’ that included drawing fins and matching their marks to dolphin names (this was my favorite!) is both thrilling and shows volunteers some key points of the project.
One thing I would try improve on is the amount of boat outings volunteers experience. I understand this is based on the weather and it is better to not risk anything, but there were also a few days that we stayed in the office when the sea seemed calm enough for us to get on the boat and collect data. Our group saw the dead calf and it was traumatic, but I think it’s very important for the institute to continue posting articles/posts related to such experiences on social media as it intrigues old and new volunteers and encourages people to help.

Dolphin in Croatia

Ashleigh Horton, an Environmental Conservation student from the UK, joined the project in September 2017: 
I had a wonderful time on the project and learned a lot from the experience. I would greatly recommend the trip as not only does it help a great cause but it is fun to learn about the wildlife in that part of the Adriatic. The team were kind and supportive of us and I made friends within the team, we were given time to relax as well as enough work to keep us busy! I truly enjoyed every moment of it, even the days when we didn't get to go out on the boat and see dolphins, because we got to contribute to the research in other ways. I will definitly go again, if I get the chance or perhaps another WorkingAboard project.

Jésabelle Kibanda from Belgium volunteered at the project in August 2017: 
The 2 weeks I spent on the project were absolutely amazing and an experience that I will never forget. Everything was perfect: the group of volunteers, the organisation of the day-to- day activities, the days spent on or off the sea, and of course, our encounters with the dolphins! Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us!

Suzanne and Janelle Starkiewicz from Canada joined in July-August 2017: 
This was an experience of a life time that we'll never forget! Seeing the dolphins in the wild and being able to contribute to valuable research was very rewarding and special. The accommodation was lovely with an amazing view of Mali Losinj. The interns, staff, and researchers at the project were all wonderful people who were full of knowledge about dolphins and the ocean. You can tell they are all really passionate about what they do and their passion is contagious. We would recommend this experience to anyone especially if you are interested in dolphins, the ocean, and research. We already want to go back.

Borbála Király from Hungary joined as a volunteer in July 2017: 

Dolphins in Croatia

My volunteering went very well! The accommodation was very nice and clean with a beautiful view to the harbor in Mali Losing, also the interns were welcoming and helpful, there was no problem with the arrival. Tihana was also helpful and gave us information on the first day of arrival, about the project and the upcoming activities. Through the project, we got to experience how field work and office work is, also we learned a lot about the project itself and the Adriatic sea. 

Losinj sunset in Croatia

Teamwork was always easy both on the boat and land, as the other volunteers were also friendly and open minded, ready for challenges. I mainly participated in the program because I wanted to have an overall idea what marine biology is like (more or less, I know this project didn’t cover every side of it), because I want to be a marine biologist.
The program didn’t disappoint me at all, what is more it ensured me in my goals and ambitions! Even though it was a project about bottlenose dolphins we got to learn about a lot of other marine animals such as see turtles, and how they are affected. Overall I met with amazing people, at a beautiful place working on a fascinating project, thank you for the experience!

Students Jozef Koval, from Slovakia, Anton Zukovski, from Estonia, Annija Uzule, from Latvia, Agata Kawiako, from Denmark and Dan-Vlad Cobasneanu, from Romania, joined our Bottlenose Dolphin Project in Croatia from 29th June to 10th July. Here's what they had to say about their time in Lošinj:

Students from Denmark out looking for dolphins

We came back from the volunteering project in Veli Losinj, Croatia, and we wanted to say a big THANK YOU.
It was an amazing experience, starting from location and the most important - people we met. Tihana, Marko, Karlo, Matic, Sandra are simply fantastic. We enjoyed every moment of our stay and would definitely recommend it to others. The house, the office, the boat, sightings, dinner, Saturn (local bar where we were hanging out every evening) and everything else was absolutely fantastic, we already miss that place. 
So thank you again for your help!

Read what one of our volunteers, Jens Ruggaber from Germany thought about their volunteering program in Lošinj and North Dalmatia:

There you are, after a long journey, on this Northern Croatian island arriving at the picturesque harbour town of Veli Losinj, being picked up by delightful team members of the project. They, of course, are not your personal tour guides for a leisurely all-inclusive vacation, but part of the scientific staff taking care of about everything from research, general maintenance etc. to supervising volunteers and interns during their time with the project.

Some highlights were the educational introduction into the project (especially on fieldwork and collecting & evaluating data), memorable terrace-talks at the station after sundown, and most of all being out on the water (weather permitting) surrounded by beautiful natural scenery in search of dolphins. It’s a small team and as a volunteer you have set tasks and also contribute to keep the whole project running. 

What I realized during our survey is, despite the available amount of information, how much we still do not know about dolphins. Yet our gathered data may add a little piece of the puzzle to a greater understanding for these amazing animals. I hope, with the effort of everyone involved, that this will soon lead to a reactivation and even extension of the marine protection area in the Croatian Adriatic.

Marine volunteers taking a jump

Debbie Hughes from the UK writes about her experience on the Bottlenose Dolphin Research Project – on the Research Sailing boat for 12 days, Dalmatian coast, Croatia

The trip was amazing and an excellent experience!

It was very well set up and well organised. Grgur was a great lead and he created a good balance between work and relaxing time. The description on the Working abroad site is a good insight into the whole experience and between that and the pack I was sent I was well prepared for the trip. The accommodation on the boat is basic but it is perfect and a great opportunity. The meals are prepared by the skipper on the boat and the food was amazing.

A dolphin out at seaThe usual day consisted of getting up about 7 with breakfast at 7:30 then out on the rib searching for dolphins till about 1. When back at the boat it was lunch then free time during which we sunbathed, went swimming in the sea, snorkelled and relaxed. (When we were out on the rib the skipper moved the big boat to a different location where we met him) Over the whole trip we covered over 500 nautical miles!! On a few nights we did some computer work which Grgur had explained to us- for about 2 hours (only about 3 nights though). Dinner was served about 8 where we discussed the daily activities and the plans for the next day. After dinner on 3 nights Grgur gave us a powerpoint presentation about different areas of his work and ours, these included our role on the boat, his research and the work on dolphin behaviours. On the other nights the time was our own to do with as we pleased.

Most days had the same plan, only on 2 days we didn't go out to search due to winds and high seas. Over the 12 nights we were anchored at sea for 9 nights and 3 nights docked at quiet bays. I preferred being anchored as the sea was amazing but even when we were docked the bays had 4-5 other boats and the small towns only had about a dozen houses and a small bar.

A dolphin jumping out of the waterBonnie O'Reilly writes about her experience:

I volunteered for this project in Croatia & it was the most incredible thing I have experienced. I have been travelling around the world for the past 4 years & this has certainly stood out in my memories. I have always had a huge passion for dolphins & it was always my dream to work with them & help in any way to protect them from a destructive human race. When I discovered the Project in Veli Losinj, Croatia, I sent an email from my home in Australia asking if they needed volunteers. My dream came true when they accepted my position as one of the 5 volunteers, with only one position left available. Within a couple of weeks, I flew from Australia & made my way to the beautiful little harbour of Veli Losinj where I was met by one of the project workers who took me to a gorgeous little house in which I resided for the next fifteen days, along with the other volunteers.

From friends to family we worked together along with our incredible hosts Alena & Grgur to help collect information about the dolphins in the area. We set out on the crystal clear Mediterranean waters almost every day in search of the dolphins on a small little boat where we gathered information to later take back to the Research Centre. We became lucky every time in our search & could barely contain our excitement just from the sighting of these remarkable creatures, while we worked together as a team to collect information such as the number of dolphins spotted & the geographical positioning of them. Photographs were taken to help identify each one & we also performed acoustic monitoring.

On a sad day, when it was too windy to hit the sea to find our flippery friends, we would spend our time in The Research Centre accumulating the information previously collected. We were given the difficult task of identifying the dolphins by matching photographs of their dorsal fins which would hopefully give us a precise number, & name of each dolphin.

I became aware that the Losinj Marine Centre was a very educational place for visitors who would enjoy interactive activities & learn from the vast amount of information displayed.

For me, with or without the dolphins, it was our group of volunteers that really made for a memorable experience. We all got along so well & shared each evening in the house taking turns cooking the meals, sharing laughs & stories while also enjoying a few (or more!) beverages. One night we were lucky enough to enjoy a ´house party´which was the night we invented the Dolphin Dance! Little did we know that we may have created some kind of magic with our dance as the following day turned out to be possibly the most incredible day of my life!!

With more than a sore head from our all night house party, we were unexpectedly woken in the morning by Grgur who abruptly entered our room whooping ´Dolphins!!´. The weather had promised an optimistic day so we leapt out of bed as fast as we could to board our little boat to sea. It was a very stunning day on the 8th of August 2009 & was only about to become more stunning, as we headed to the waters near the small island of Trstenik. With gasps of disbelief we were soon given the most SPECTACULAR display by a pod of 58 dolphins!!! This was the most amount of dolphins ever recorded in the area & we soon became known as the ´Wow´group because this was all we could say as we watched the dolphins leap into the air all around us. This was a show you could never pay money to see at a marine park, this was a show of the happiest dolphins in their element - the wild. In every direction we looked there would be an airborne dolphin, some leaping at up to 5 metres above the water. There were also mothers & their calves who swam very close to our boat which was unobtrusive to them. Jumping, leaping, even synchronized flying dolphins - Wow Wow Wow is the only way I could describe this day. We spent about 8 hours on the waters that day until we waved our friends goodbye into the sunset. I think we all forgot about our hangovers very quickly until we returned to the house, & reminisced on a perfect day. What a day! Could it be possible to break that record the following day with a pod of 60 dolphins sighted? This leaves me speachless.

My experience as a volunteer has been a remarkable one. I left my home in Australia with a little uncertainty of my life due to personal matters but after this experience I was given hope to follow my dreams & was also given hope for the dolphins & all creatures of the ´Big Blue´ because we CAN all live in harmony if we care a little. Before I left my home in Veli Losinj I adopted a male dolphin named Monk which I hope has helped in the research of his precious life & I encourage all who are capable, to help look after our world, in any big or small way, which we share with many species, some of which are endangered. You can make a difference!

Personally I would like to thank Alena, Grgur, Annika, Leopold, Robert, Nicole, Armin, Nikolina, Andrea & all of the dolphins for, without even realising, helping me get through a difficult time. You helped me ´´ find a good reason to come back up´´.

Past Volunteer Matthew Tung, from Hong Kong, describes his time on the project in June 2012

This volunteering trip is literally the best one I’ve ever had. The days I spent on the island were indelible. I got to get close with dolphins in a natural habitat scenario on a speedboat for the first time when they came close to the boat. Before getting to the sea for field observations, I was educated about the research project and the guidelines regarding field observations. As a science student, I found this field-research exposure very rewarding for my future studies. The accommodation’s brilliant! It’s clean and tidy (with excellent view). It’s an awesome experience to live with scientists and interns from different countries. The staff was very friendly and helpful. I’ve made some really great friends there. Personally, as a youngster from Hong Kong, which is a crowded and busy city filled with skyscrapers, the trip was a perfect opportunity for me to relax a bit and get away from the hustle and bustle for some days on that relaxing and gorgeous island. I wish I could stay longer…. The awesomeness of the trip is simply beyond description! I can’t wait to take part in the program again!“

‘As our time here comes to an end I find myself wishing that the time didn’t go by so quickly. I wish that I could stay longer and learn more about all of the work and research that occurs at the project... ...Seeing the dolphins was a great pleasure, yet a greater pleasure was helping with the research, I truly hope that we were of some assistance. The main goal for our time here was to enjoy learning something new, this objective was surely completed, thank you very much for this opportunity’

Sam and Sarah McDeid

Playful bottlenose dolphins

How to Join the Project

If you are interested in joining this project, you will need to fill out the online application form – to secure a placement on the project, please complete and submit the form with your application payment of £180. If for some reason, your application is not accepted, we will reimburse this payment fully. However for those who are accepted, the application payment is taken and you will be required to pay 50% of the full amount within 10 days of acceptance, with the remaining 50% 1.5 months before arrival. This will have to be paid in Euros to our programme research partner. Once we have confirmed your place, you will receive a detailed information package on the programme background and scientific objectives, your role as a volunteer, the work you will do, suggested items to bring, how to travel there etc. Following this, you will receive documents on volunteer liability that will need to be completed after you are booked on the programme. Any questions with regards to your application, please email us.


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